Covid has forced organizations to rapidly change their approach to work and HR has played a significant role in articulating this approach. HR has responded with agility to the situation to enable employees to work more effectively from remote locations during the lockdown by streamlining IT and providing admin and operations support. Offices were made safe places to work by following central guidelines and with necessary infrastructure changes from IT and admin points of view.
BFSI organizations have been giving behavioral guidelines and safety protocols for covid prevention to the employees from time to time along with remote working ready reckoner. Additionally, to safeguard health and wellbeing of those on field duties, special group insurance policies have been introduced by several BFSI organizations.
DBS Bank is present across all major markets in Asia, where infections were rampant even before it had assumed global proportions. Because of the presence of several regional touchpoints necessitating frequent business travels by the staff, the bank started taking necessary precautionary measures starting December 2019 itself. Being a future-ready organization, it had prepared itself to face the pandemic.
The immediate response to the covid crisis was prioritizing employee wellbeing while maintaining business continuity. The bank created a quick response team with representation from all business units as a point of contact for all issues/questions about the situation. The bank also formed a Crisis Management Committee (CMC) with senior members across various functions headed by its CEO to devise policies and initiatives to enable continued operations.
Nagina Singh, the bank’s Executive Director, HR, highlights 3 priority initiatives that the bank took up: “First, as a daily activity, updated safety guidelines were communicated to all employees with an update on the situation, reinforcing safe behavior and practices. Second, to enable critical functions for the roles qualifying under essential banking services, proper food and transport facilities were arranged along with a daily special allowance as a token of appreciation for their work in the testing times. Lastly, rigorous sanitization and hygiene measures were maintained at the premises.”
To ensure continuity, CRIF Highmark Information Solutions activated its BCP instantly, and meetings with all the senior staff leaders were periodically held once the company adopted WFH. Also, it announced an immediate action plan to enable the support system and infrastructure for WFH. The management arranged for continuous communication to the leaders/managers/teams on the plans and sent laptops and desktops to employees’ residences – all within a week. It also extended internet and phone allowances to employees to support WFH.
Manisha Prasad shares details: “Our HR team and leaders ensured they are available 24×7 for employees to overcome their anxieties and address queries. Apart from ensuring smooth business operations, we also focused on holistic wellness of employees covering professional, emotional and physical well-being. We introduced an employee assistance program that offered counselling facility and wellness guidance. We also launched the Beaconforce app globally to connect employees through contests, games, events and activities.”
With the pandemic resetting established working schedule, HR leaders were compelled to have a rethink on workforce and employee planning, management, performance and experience strategies. The transition to remote working has spurred demand for automation, increased adoption of collaboration tools and a significant shift to cloud computing to create seamless collaboration of remote workforces. Amidst this transitory phase, keeping employees motivated and enthused to move towards the new normal has become the utmost priority for organizations. The HR department is tasked with ensuring adequate enablement and engagement of teams while also preparing for hard decisions.
According to Meenaa Sharma, organizations have transformed and realigned, keeping technology at the center of each strategy. She explains: “At every step, we at Reliance Securities have automated systems and processes to enhance the onboarding experience and employee engagement. We introduced wellness programs for employees and their families. The pandemic necessitated that the entire employee journey was re-imagined by the HR function from the perspective of the new challenges in a distributed virtual workplace environment. This change entailed modification of the recruitment practices, rewards and recognition policies, engagement initiatives, exit processes, and everything in between.”
At Digit Insurance, a large part of its employees are millennials and beyond providing and covering physical wellness, the company also tried to understand what drives them – whether it is generous boundaries and freedom to work, celebrating their success, or helping them prioritize their work-life balance.
Says Amrit Jaidka Arora: “We have been continuously working on new ways to engage them, providing opportunities of at-home training, cross-functional training and virtual monthly quarantine games to keep their morale up. Leaders and managers across the organization have been developing and working on an emotional connection with their teams. Acknowledging personal and professional challenges of employees, being transparent, and answering the ‘why’, our managers have enhanced their efforts to keep our remote workforce productive and motivated.”
Digit Insurance utilized systems like the ATS to smoothen its onboarding and recruitment process. The insurer tried keeping people rooted in the office through its newsletter and bringing in more positive thoughts. Apart from the regular issues, the company brought out a lockdown edition of Digit Pulse, the company’s monthly newsletter, in which an office location was featured every month highlighting how each team was coping. When the situation was gloomy, the HR started the good news edition to bring in more positive thoughts for employees.
DBS Bank focused on employee wellbeing, business continuity and enhancing capabilities to sustain smooth operations after weathering the initial storm. The next step was engaging the virtual workforce to ensure no or minimal drop in productivity.
The bank introduced monetary benefits to the staff to meet expenses for the basics and went on to provide a holistic covid lump sum insurance policy and allowances for flu jabs, WFH gadgets, home workout equipment, medical tracking devices, etc, to support the change in lifestyle during the pandemic and accommodate increased spend related to covid. Mental wellbeing has remained a key area of focus.
The bank has been proactive in announcing that there would be no retrenchments and pay cuts so that employees could feel secure – socially and financially. Additionally, the bank provided a special daily allowance for essential roles working out of the office. Increased communication on the 24 Response App (emergency service aid at the click of a button) was leveraged for delivering critical items to employees’ households. Softer mandates ensured employees experience work-life balance in the new normal – Observing [email protected] across the bank, which implies Friday work hours ending at 5 pm.
PASSING THE TEST
As it is the human assets that were threatened by the virus, it was a test of responsiveness, resilience and pragmatism for human resources professionals. The fact that most BFSI organizations could maintain business continuity with ensure minimal impact on employee health and well-being, is quite a testament to the attitude and aptitude of the HR professionals.